Friday, July 08, 2005

Weary of strife, India shows more restraint

By Y.P. Rajesh

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Weary of sectarian bloodshed and now more focused on its dream of prosperity, India saw little of its customary knee-jerk violence this week after unidentified gunmen stormed a holy site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims.

The federal government placed security agencies and all states on full alert after the attack, mindful of the past.

The controversial religious site in Ayodhya, where a makeshift temple to Hindu God-king Ram was built in 1992 after Hindu mobs razed a 16th-century mosque, has been a flashpoint for sectarian bloodshed for years.

Although the attackers -- suspected to be Islamic militants -- were killed before they could reach the makeshift structure, the trespass could have been considered sacrilegous enough to set off bloodletting again between the country's Hindus and its large, but minority, Muslim population.

But reactions were uncharacteristically restrained.

The backlash was limited to Hindu groups breaking a few car windshields, blocking roads and trains and closing shops in a few dozen cities in protests -- minimal compared to the violence sparked by such provocations in the past.

"There has been a weariness with such strife and conflict for a few years. It has been replaced by a desire for peace in a sense," said independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

"Terrorism is not becoming a signal for provocative counter-mobilisation and division on ethnic lines. Definitely it is a sign of the polity maturing," he said.

Many Hindus see Muslims as the descendants of Islamic invaders who took control of the Indian plains centuries ago and religious tensions have seldom been from the surface. More than one million people have been killed in clashes since the early 18th century, rights groups say.

The partition of British colonial India along religious lines and the creation of Islamic Pakistan in 1947 exacerbated divisions, as did a Hindu revivalist campaign launched by nationalist groups in the late 1980s.

Hundreds of thousands were killed in the aftermath of the 1947 partition while the demolition of the historic Ayodhya mosque in 1992 engulfed many parts of the country in violence and killed more than 3,000 people.


More recently, in 2002, the torching of a train in Gujarat carrying pilgrims from Ayodhya in which 59 Hindus died led to widespread revenge attacks. About 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Hindu groups claim that Lord Ram was born on the site in Ayodhya, about 600 km southeast of New Delhi, and that Islamic invaders destroyed a temple on the spot and built the mosque in its place.

A campaign by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister groups to rebuild a Ram temple there led to the demolition of the mosque by mobs and catapulted the BJP to the centrestage of Indian politics in the 1990s.

The 1990s, however, also marked the unshackling of the Indian economy from decades of state control, triggering Western-style market reforms, sparking a desire for growth, development, education and consumption.

Today, India is Asia's fourth-largest economy and a booming centre of information technology industries and services. This has helped alter national politics and has struck at the core of what the BJP stands for, analysts said.

"The excited manner in which the BJP leadership has seized on the terrorist attack in Ayodhya simply shows that the Sangh Parivar refuses to understand that the India of 2005 cannot possibly remain in the thrall of the 1992-minted hate mantras," wrote Harish Khare, an editor with The Hindu newspaper.

Khare was referring to weak attempts by the BJP and its allies -- called the Sangh parivar, or family -- to capitalise on the Ayodhya attack for a revival of its fortunes after last year's defeat in national elections.

"This is a pointer that politics is about bread and butter issues. It's about jobs and food and grain prices and sugar and industry," Rangarajan said. "You can see evidence of this in the ambivalence and hesitation of the BJP because they don't see these issues striking a chord."

Even in Ayodhya, there was little enthusiasm to dwell on the issue much longer.

"Because of this attack and protests, business will be ruined during the month-long monsoon fair starting soon," said Shiv Kumar, a Ayodhya shopkeeper. "People will be scared to come here and that is not good for us."

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.





Post a Comment

<< Home